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Reasons why Macedonia can’t have normal relations with Bulgaria October 19, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights abuses, Macedonia.
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Although one can certainly come up with several fold more reasons why Skopje and Sofia have not been able to normalize their relations, here are ten that come to mind right from the start.

1. Macedonians at home spent majority of their WW2 fighting against Bulgarian soldiers. Macedonian partisans engaged the Germans mostly in major battles outside of Macedonia, in other parts of the then Yugoslavia.

2. In 1913 Macedonia was split in 3 parts (Vardar, Pirin, Aegean). Due to the split, the remains of one of the greatest Macedonian revolutionaries Goce Delcev (died 1903) found itself on the ‘other’ side, in present Bulgaria. Official Sofia in 1946 sent Delcev’s remains to the rightful owners, the Government of Macedonia in Skopje. Today official Sofia claims him as “Bulgarian”. Why give him up if he is your own, and equally important, why claim him 60 years later?

3. Bulgaria while protecting their Jewish minority, was responsible for rounding up and sending to concentration camps the Jewish population from Macedonia and Thrace (present Greece). Macedonia lost 98% of its Jewish population. All of the gold, art and jewelry was stolen by Bulgarian soldiers and sent to Sofia. Just a fortnight ago (October 7th), Jewish leaders from Israel told the Bulgarian Government in Sofia that “saving your own Jews but murdering others still makes you a murderer”. There goes Sofia’s hope that everyone has amnesia.

4. Official Bulgarian census in 1946 listed 252,908 Macedonians living in Bulgaria. Official census in 1956 somehow listed less, 187,789 ethnic Macedonians, concentrated in the Pirin region. In 2011, official Sofia counted 1,600 Macedonians! For the next census, Sofia will follow Athens and claim it has no minorities.

5. When visiting Bulgaria, in particularly major holiday destinations , one is able to view dozens of TV channels from all of Bulgaria’s neighbors. The only channels missing (scrambled) are those from Macedonia.

6. Just like in Greece, Bulgaria too does not allow Macedonians to register a political party and take part in Parliament elections. The Macedonians have taken Bulgaria to Human Rights court in Strasbourg twice, won both times, but still cannot register their party.

7. Bulgaria first recognized Macedonia, at the same time did not recognize the language which automatically created tensions between the two countries.

8. Bulgaria wanted to help Macedonia during the Greek embargo and opened its port in Burgas to Macedonian companies. This nice gesture was conditioned – official Skopje must stop its communication with Macedonians in Bulgaria.

9. After 2000, Bulgaria decided to create a “minority” in Macedonia, Serbia, Moldavia (even Albania) by issuing passports and citizenships to Macedonians. According to Macedonians and Serbs who have received Bulgarian passports, the entire procedure was done in less than two months involving little to no documentation at all.

10. A typical court case of divorced parents seeking a custody of their daughter turned into a circus case because the mother (Spaska Mitrova) had recently received a Bulgarian passport. Mitrova’s new passport meant the bombastic arrival of two dozen journalists from Sofia at a small court house in Gevgelija to cover the case and cheer on Spaska Mitrova.

Bulgaria’s WWII rescue of Jews: the other side of the coin October 6, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Macedonia.
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Bulgaria, which has prided itself as being the only ally of Nazi Germany to save its 48,000 Jews from death camps, must now admit it allowed the killing of 11,000 Jews from territories under its control, researchers say.

“You are a hero rescuer but also a brutal murderer and a cool persecutor. You cannot say the one without saying the other too,” Michael Berenbaum, founder of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, told a conference Friday in Sofia aimed at shedding light on this sombre page of Bulgaria’s history.
“Evil has no nationality. The elucidation of this subject will contribute to reconciliation in the Balkans,” Bulgarian political analyst Antony Todorov added.
Historians say 11,000 Jews from Bulgarian-administered territories in what are now modern Macedonia and Greece did end up in Nazi death camps.
But Bulgaria has used its reputation as an honourable exception and a Jewish saviour as the basis for building up ties with Israel, and both countries are preparing to mark next March the 70th anniversary of Sofia’s refusal to send its Jews to be slaughtered by the Nazis.
“This subject has been strongly exploited for political ends,” Bulgarian historian Nikolay Poppetrov said.
Researchers agreed that authorities in Bulgaria have carefully avoided speaking about the other side of the World War II history coin.
The treatment of the Macedonian Jews has remained largely unknown by the general public in Bulgaria. But it has nevertheless marred ties between Sofia and Skopje.
“There is no amnesia in the nation’s memory,” Macedonian historian Todor Chepretanov said, explaining that the Bulgarian government, police and monarchy of the time bore responsibility for the deportation of the Macedonian Jews.
“Certainly, facing the truth can be painful, but trying to sweep it under the carpet or ignore it only increases the pain and trauma for you and for future generations,” he added.
Some historians argue that Bulgaria felt obliged to sacrifice Jews in the territories it administered for the German Reich to save more of its own Jewish population.
For Bulgarian Jewish journalist Emmy Baruh, however, whose family was one of those who escaped deportation, “the interpretation that the lives of 50,000 were paid for by those of 11,000 is immoral and sinister.”On Mar.9, 1943, freight trains waited at Kyustendil in western Bulgaria and Plovdiv to the south to deport the first wave of 9,000 Bulgarian Jews to extermination camps in Poland, a few weeks after the right-wing government signed an accord to this end with the Nazis.
Parliament deputy speaker Dimitar Peshev was alerted about the convoy preparations by his voters in Kyustendil and rushed to intervene.
He wrote a letter of protest signed by 42 lawmakers from different parties to Prime Minister Bogdan Filov and King Boris III. Christian Orthodox clergy, intellectuals and the still underground communist movement staged solidarity rallies and the king managed to postpone the deportation indefinitely.
Deportations however started in territories in western Macedonia, northern Greece and southern Serbia, which Bulgaria had lost during preceding wars but were returned to its administration by Germany.
A total of 11,343 Jews from these regions were deported by the Bulgarian army, lists show, including a baby, named as Isak, his age “zero,” sent to the Treblinka death camp in Poland.
The few survivors remembered the “astounding cruelty” of some soldiers, who committed violent and humiliating acts against them, Baruh said.
For Poppetrov, even if Bulgaria saved its Jews from the death camps, public opinion in the country was not at all tolerant to them.
“Our society allowed Jews to be deprived of their civil rights: they were displaced, made to wear a yellow star, and banned from practising certain professions,” he said.
Historian Rumen Avramov meanwhile saw “economic motives” behind what he described as the “anti-Semitism of the state,” demonstrated by the 1941 Law for the Protection of the Nation that notably nationalised Jewish property.
“The Bulgarian state has to recognise the facts and apologise,” he urged.
“But public opinion is not mature enough yet and the politicians are annoyed when this subject is raised,” he said resignedly.

Silly Bulgarians Force Changes to Macedonian Manuscript Show October 4, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Belgian, Belgium, Bulgaria.
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A Belgian museum seem to have succumbed to Bulgarian pressure to delete the word ‘Macedonian’ from a landmark exhibition of medieval manuscripts.

An announced exhibition of ancient manuscripts, “A Thousand years of writing tradition in Macedonia”, which opens soon in the Mariemont Royal Museum in Belgium, has ruffled feathers in Macedonia’s neighbour Bulgaria and led to an unseemly tussle over its name.

On the last day of August, the announcement about the exhibition mysteriously vanished from the Royal Museum website.

Interestingly, before the announcement was removed from the site, a brief announcement of another exhibition title was posted, called “Traditions of the script”.

The changes have caused consternation in Macedonia, though so far the authorities have not clarified whether they will pull the plug on the exhibition if the agreed name is scrapped.

The controversy started when some Bulgarian historians and MEPs condemned the planned exhibition in Belgium as a historical falsehood and demanded it be cancelled if the exhibition’s title was not changed.

“There are no Macedonian manuscripts dating from 10th and 19th century”, because “the Macedonian nation and language stem from 1944 and nothing cannot be related to Macedonian history before that period,” Bozidar Dimitrov, head of the National Museum in Sofia, told Bulgarian Focus news agency.

This controversial historian reflects a notion, not uncommon in Bulgaria, which sees Macedonia as an artificial Yugoslav Communist construct.

“I feel sorry for my colleagues from the Royal Museum in Brussels where the exhibition will be held,” he said.

“I don’t know if there is anyone to tell them that the term ‘Macedonian medieval manuscripts’ is nonsense,” Dimitrov added.

Dimitrov said there are no such things as Macedonian medieval manuscripts, only Bulgarian, Serbian and Greek ones.

Bulgarian historian Plamen Pavlov agreed with Dimitrov, saying the Macedonians had fooled the Belgians.

Bulgarian MEP Andrey Kovachev, head of the Bulgarian delegation in the right-of-centre European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, went further.

He contacted the Belgian authorities and asked them to cancel the exhibition, to prevent “manipulation” of what he sees as “scientific facts” about the Bulgarian nature of the manuscripts.

“I explained to the Museum’s head that it is scientifically incorrect for the Museum to present these manuscripts as Macedonian,” he said.

“In addition, I have already informed Belgium that we shouldn’t allow the manuscripts to be used for provocations and for manipulation of scientific facts and data. I expect Brussels to respond as soon as possible,” Kovachev added.

Kovachev said he didn’t necessarily want the exhibition cancelled.

Treasures heading to Belgium:
The 39 restored manuscripts written in Cyrillic and Glagolitic alphabet, dating back the 10th to the 19th century, are being prepared for transport to Belgium on October 9.It is the first time that Macedonia has organized such an exhibition outside its territory.The National and University Library, the National Archive, the Institute for Protection of National Heritage, and the Museums in Ohrid and in Bitola have all contributed.Mihajlo Georgievski, specialist in medieval Christian literature, made the final selection.

Among the manuscripts are the Asemanii gospel and Zografski gospel, from the 10th century, the Sinai Psalter, Sinai Euchologium, Ohrid Glagolitic scripts from the 11th century and other manuscripts from the 12th century.

Some of these manuscripts will be displayed as copies, as the originals are in Moscow and the Vatican Library.

All those dating from the 13th to the 19th century such as the Lenten Triodion and Kratovo gospel will be originals.

“If the manuscripts are correctly presented, the exhibition can be a model for a common representation of the shared history of the Republic of Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia,” he said.

He maintained that if Macedonia complied, it would be a sign that the country was taking its EU membership hopes seriously.

It would show it had “met the recommendations of the European Parliament since the last report on country’s progress towards EU membership”.

Focus news agency then reported on August 29 that the Belgian museum had assured Kovachev that the word “Macedonian” woud not feature in the name of the exhibition.

The apparent change of plan is an embarrassment for the Macedonian National and St Clement of Ohrid University Library, which planned the exhibition in cooperation with Vallon Brussels International, the Mariemont Royal Museum and the Macedonian embassy in Belgium.

The goal was to present the Slavic written cultural and historical tradition through Slavic Christian monuments from 10th to 19th century that contain Glagolitic and Cyrillic enscriptions.

Representatives of the Macedonian side have maintained that there will be no cancellation, delay or intervention regarding the name of the exhibition and have refused to comment on the Bulgarian complaints.

This exhibition, they say, was agreed a long ago with Vallon Brussels International and the Royal Museum.

Two Belgian and one Swiss Slavic experts have already studied the manuscripts and one week after they submitted their report, a green light was given for the organization of this exhibition.

“Our task is to look after the country’s cultural heritage but also to present it,” the director of the National and University Library, Mile Boseski, said.

“If we didn’t have any consent from Brussels, would we announce the opening date of the exhibition?” he asked.

“And if there were any changes in the name of the exhibition, wouldn’t Belgium notify us first, and not Bulgaria?”

He said that they were already working on preparing the accompanying posters and catalogues for the exhibition.

“The manuscripts that will be displayed should bear the term ‘Macedonian’, since they… are from the territory of Macedonia and express the linguistic traits of the Macedonian Church Slavonic language and Macedonian dialects,” the Institute for the Macedonian Language in Skopje, said.

The institute says that for over half a century a number of scientific and cultural institutions in Macedonia have dealt with the study of medieval manuscripts, and have always used the adjective “Macedonian” as a determinant.

Macedonian historians say that denial of the Macedonian identity is routine among some of their Bulgarian colleagues and politicians, but not among all.

Macedonian historian Ilija Velev says that the Bulgarian reactions have a purely political connotation and don’t deserve much attention, especially because they don’t come from respected experts in the field.

“Macedonian manuscript heritage is fully recognized in Slavic studies,” Velev maintained.

“Dimitrov and Pavlov… act as political mercenaries… and aren’t taken seriously in Bulgaria, either,” he said.

“What is important is that there is no such reaction from the [wider] Bulgarian scientific community, which doesn’t call our medieval manuscript heritage ‘Macedonian’ but old Bulgarian or old Slavic – but fully admits that it belongs to Macedonia,” Velev explained.

“No one can erase anything that is verified and established as Macedonian cultural heritage. We shouldn’t get agitated,” he continued.

The author of the exhibition, Professor Mihajlo Georgievski, agreed that such reactions from individuals in Bulgaria were to be expected.

“What can you expect from an environment which constantly denies your culture, people, identity, everything?” he asked in an interview for the MKD portal.

“What hurts them is that the oldest manuscripts stem from Macedonia… and are registered [in world museums] as manuscripts from Macedonia or of Macedonian origin,” Georgievski added.

Although Skopje and Sofia have friendly political relations, they have opposing stances on matters past and present, which regularly cause tensions.

Skopje claims that a considerable ethnic Macedonian minority exists in western Bulgaria, while Sofia insists that these people are all Bulgarian. Sofia meanwhile complains that Bulgarians in Macedonia are oppressed.

Although Bulgaria was the first country to recognise Macedonia after it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it has not recognised the existence of a Macedonian nation and language as distinct from Bulgarian.

Earlier this year the still unreleased Macedonian movie “Third Halftime”, a World War II love story set against the background of the destruction of the Jewish community in Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia, caused another cross-border squabble.

Georgievski noted that the manuscripts that are to be displayed mainly date from the 10th to the 12th century, while the rest are from the 13th to the 19th century.

“They are originals and are held in Macedonian institutions. These manuscripts originated in Macedonia, are held in Macedonia and, of course, have the linguistic features from the place where they were created…  Politics should not interfere in science”, Georgievski added.

Macedonia Soccer Movie Kicks Off Controversy September 26, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Israel, Macedonia.
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A screengrab from Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski’s World War II soccer drama “The Third Half”

Soccer has always been a sport that lends itself to drama and it has been the source of many great stories that resonate beyond the field of play.In addition to the frenetic thrills and spills of the game itself, the universal popularity and cross-border appeal of association football means that many stirring moments in the sport’s history also end up being celebrated as part of a nation’s folklore.For example, the infamous “death match” between prisoners of war, who were former professional soccer players with Kyiv teams, and soldiers from the Nazi Wehrmacht has become the stuff of legend in both Ukraine and beyond.

The gripping story of how some local footballers paid the ultimate price for having the temerity to thrash a Nazi soccer team has become a source of national pride in Ukraine.

It’s such an enthralling story that it has easily lent itself to movie adaptations — inspiring a number of films such as “Escape to Victory” starring Sylvester Stallone as well as the controversial “The Match,” which sparked a major controversy ahead of the Euro 2012 finals, which Ukraine co-hosted. .

Now, a Macedonian filmmaker has given the cinematic treatment to one of his country’s most venerated soccer stories, which has also sparked a row.

Darko Mitrevski’s “The Third Half,” which premiered at a festival in Bitolathis week, tells the tale of the short-lived Skopje football club FC Macedonia.

Playing in the Bulgarian league at a time when Macedonia didn’t officially exist, and coached by Jewish trainer Illes Spitz, this team defied all the odds to reach the Bulgarian national league final of 1942.

Bulgarian Outrage

Mitrevski’s movie is essentially a love story based on the life experience of Macedonian Holocaust survivor Neta Cohen.

“The Third Half” depicts how a young Jewish girl from an affluent family defies her parents by dating a poor Macedonian football player. But their love overcomes this parental hostility and even saves the girl’s life because she manages to escape being deported to Treblinka by eloping with her boyfriend.

With high production values and a classic Romeo-and-Juliet plotline set against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II, the film has every chance of being well received internationally.

It’s not surprising therefore, that “The Third Half” has already been nominated as the Macedonian entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar.

WATCH: International trailer for “The Third Half”

In neighboring Bulgaria, however, the film has sparked outrage, with many saying that it paints a skewed picture of the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Nazi death camps.

Late last year, three Bulgarian members of the European Parliament called on the European commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, to censure Skopje for the movie, which they said was an “attempt to manipulate Balkan history” and “spread hate.”

Bulgaria has often been praised for refusing to deport its Jews to its ally Germany in World War II. Nonetheless, it did deport Macedonian Jews after it occupied the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941.

According to Balkaninsight.com, only 2 percent of Jews from Macedonia survived the Holocaust and some historians have intimated that Bulgaria handed them over to appease the Germans for protecting their own Jewish population from the Nazis.

Mitrevski has denounced the Bulgarian allegations, which he described as “foolish reactions.” He has also slammed the use of what he calls “Goebbels-like production machinery” to deny Bulgaria’s role in the Holocaust.

Old Sense Of Injustice

Ironically, despite the heated debate surrounding the movie, the real controversy for most hard-core football fans has nothing to do with historical accuracy.

For Macedonian soccer supporters, the film has reawakened an old sense of injustice because they believe FC Macedonia was robbed of the Bulgarian championship in 1942.

To this day, there are many people who still feel that the Skopje club was denied victory in the league final against Levski Sofia because of biased decision-making by referees who had conspired to ensure that a “non-Bulgarian” team would not win the national championship.

In 2010, FC Macedonia’s last surviving member, goalkeeper Vasil Dilev, indicated that there was no doubt his team were by far the better footballing side, thanks to the tutelage of the legendary Spitz.

“There are no more coaches like that,” he said. “He turned Macedonia into a club that made the whole of Bulgaria shiver.”

WATCH: Interview with FC Macedonia goalkeeper Vasil Dilev

Macedonia sends ‘Third Half’ to Oscars September 17, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Macedonia.
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Darko Mitrevski’s wartime soccer film “The Third Half” was submitted Thursday as Macedonia’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar.
One of a recent spate of films from Eastern Europe about soccer and ethnic and national loyalties during wartime occupation by the Germans, the film beat Teona Strugar Mitevska’s “Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears” and omnibus feature “Skopje Remix” for the national nomination, Darko Basheski, head of the Macedonian Film Fund told Variety.

Set in Macedonia, then part of Yugoslavia, following the Nazi invasion and based on a true story, the film follows the fortunes of FC Macedonia and their German-Jewish coach Rudolph Spitz who led them to victory in a championship in the Nazi soccer league.

Replete with the divided loyalties common at the time, plot involves a love affair between a rough diamond soccer player Kosta (Sasko Kovec) and beautiful wealthy Jewish girl Rebecca, a debut by New York-based Macedonian model Katarina Ivanovska.

Germany’s Richard Sammel, who had minor roles in “Inglourious Basterds” and “Life Is Beautiful,” plays Spitz.

Film is produced by Skopje’s Kino Oko, I/O Post in Prague and Los Angeles’ The Little Film Company, which is also handling international sales.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce the five nominees for foreign-language film on Jan. 15. The 85th Academy Awards ceremony takes place Feb. 24.